This month on Saturday 28th and Sunday the 29th of July the annual Soldiers of Killiecrankie Festival takes place. This event commemorates the first of the Jacobite battles in Scotland the Battle of Killiecrankie fought on the 27th of July 1689.
At the festival, battle re-enactors dressed in the uniforms of the period, battlefield tours and lectures tell the story of the battle and the events leading to it. It is a fantastic day out for anyone young or old interested in history, I must confess to having a vested interest in promoting this event as I will be there as Sandy Dow the Perth Hangman.
It is an event that took place before the Battle of Killiecrankie that I want to focus on, a daring raid on the City of Perth by the Jacobite leader John Grahame of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee or known to us now as Bonnie Dundee. The events that lead to this attack took place in late 1688 when William the Protestant Prince of Orange landed in England’s west coast and forced his father in law the Catholic King James VII of Scotland and II of England to flee into exile. While England declared for Prince William and his wife Mary (King James’s daughter) a Convention was set up in Edinburgh to debate and vote on which side to support.
Seeing things going against King James one of his most loyal and zealous supporters John Graham of Claverhouse rode out of the capital and raised the King James’s Standard on the top of Dundee Law, thus declaring war on William and his supporters. The Convention sent an army under General Hugh Mackay to hunt down and engage Graham’s small band of followers. Graham took to the highlands to gather support from the clans loyal to King James, and with Mackay following him north, both armies played out a game of tactical chess in the mountains.
It was during this game of cat and mouse that Graham who was short of ammunition and supplies and in need of a morale boost for his force decided on an audacious plan – a raid on Perth. William Blair, the son of the Duke of Hamilton and the Laird of Pollock, was in Perth with a regiment of horse, and Graham knew they would be well equipped and supplied. This regiment drilled every day on the Inch of Perth probably the North Inch and held the town, which has always been of strategic importance in times of war for King William.
Graham with about seventy of his cavalry rode down by Blair Atholl to Dunkeld, where they came across a tax collector, and they took his tax money, resting until darkness at Dunkeld they then made their way towards Perth. Graham halted his troops a mile before Perth and selected twenty men, and this party led their horses towards the sleeping city.
Finding one of the gates open, which in a time of civil war is incredible, the men filled through the gate and secured the watch houses they then gave a signal and the rest of the mounted soldiers came clattering through the gate and headed for the Market Cross. The town garrison was taken entirely by surprise, and the point of a sabre rudely awakened both William Blair and the Laird of Pollock. A municipal banquet that had been held that night resulting in many of the officers holding Perth being drunk of hangover greatly assisted the raiders who captured the forces loyal to William without a fight, amongst the prisoners were two of Mackay’s lieutenants and two or three officers in the militia. These captives witnessed the shame of seeing their standards taken by the Jacobite’s. Graham publicly removed the symbols of the House of Orange- golden oranges from the top of these standards at the town cross. At the cross, he declared King James, the rightful ruler. Graham took 900 merks of public money but would not plunder private property or cash.
Graham then left Perth and headed for Scone Palace where he and his officers had dinner with a very uncomfortable 5th Viscount Stormont, who was trying his hardest not to get entangled in this political and military crisis. Graham and his small band then rode north and rejoined his army.
Graham of Claverhouse (Bonnie Dundee) was killed at the Battle of Killiecrankie just as his loyal Highlanders swept aside the red coats of Mackay’s army. He lies buried in Blair Church just to the north of Blair Castle. His grieving, demoralised and poorly led army advanced south only to be stopped in its tracts in the bloody smoke-filled streets of Dunkeld on the 21st of August 1689 and then a final Jacobite defeat at the Battle of Cromdale near Grantown-on-Spey on the 30th of April and 1st of May 1690, ended the first Jacobite rising.
If you like this story and others that I publish here, you might want to read my stories on my blog at historyandhorrorofscotland or take one of our ghost tours running every Wednesday night at Cultybraggan Prisoner of War Camp near Comrie Perthshire. Info on our Facebook page at Haunted POW Camp Tour Cultybraggan.